Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Blue Wales

A real Welsh beauty
Not blue as in 'sad', blue as in 'cold'. We're not sad, far from it; we're having a Welsh Whale of a time. Christmas in Wales is a blast. The cold isn't a problem either; we have plenty of firewood and when that runs out, furniture. Then cats.

Blogging, however, is a bit of a technical challenge. Luckily today just happens to be a day when we get both electricity and network access; very rare up in the Powys hills. So I'm taking the opportunity to announce the results of BalancedPaul's festive quiz (see previous post).

This isn't quite as simple as it should have been; e-mail has been a bit erratic, as by law all mails must be translated into Welsh, then taken by carrier pigeon to the local post office. However two successful entries managed to struggle through, and the winners are:
Congratulations to them. The correct answers were 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'A Christmas Carol.'

If anyone else thought they'd answered correctly and I didn't get in touch, apologies. I have to admit to some confusion. Some of the pigeons are on strike, and others may have frozen on the way through. Please let me know and I'll sort on our return to civilization England.

I have one small confession to make. I bought the prize curly-wurlies and an extra one for me. Then I ate it. Crikey they're sweet. And quite sticky. Goodbye fillings, hello love handles. You have been warned.

Anyway, next post in the New Year. Party time! Cheers

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

BalancedPaul's 55-Word Mystery Giveaway

Dressed for winter conditions
Special treat today; a guest post from BalancedPaul, and an epic curly-wurly giveaway.

BP is in fact my brother, and if I'm Sherlock Holmes (I wish) then he's Mycroft, i.e. cleverer, more enigmatic, and too lazy to run his own blog.

BP was much taken with G-man's 55-word fiction thing (tell a story in exactly 55 words) which normally takes place on a Friday, but this Friday we will be in the middle of our Welsh Christmas, so will spend all morning in church singing 'Land of our Fathers' and 'Bread of heaven', then all afternoon shearing leeks. It's tough up here.

So your 55-word challenge is early. He's fiendishly condensed two classic stories without referring to major characters at all. What are they?

Competition open to all followers of this blog. To enter, just e-mail the names to mw@tucasi.com. First three correct will win a year's supply of delicious and nutritious curly-wurlies1.

Good luck. Here's the stories:

Bodice-ripper, with class

Lady with five daughters to marry off. Unlucky, eh? Eldest finds
catch. Vivacious second, his supercilious friend.

Youngest brings disgrace. Trollop. Friend dissuades catch but offers
own hand despite lowering himself. What! Rejected!

Complications ensue. Youngest marries. Phew. Honour saved.

Friend and catch finally learn value of virtue over background. All
marry. Everyone happy. Nearly.


It's cold but no coal can be put on the fire. Miserable sod.

Christmas is costly. People wanting time off. Bah.

The ghosts show the error of this outlook; deceased ex-partner always forgotten.

A change of heart! And the goose is purchased for Tiny Tim (mind you, I wish someone would strangle him)

Merry Christmas!

1 - Which means five of them. I wouldn't want you getting lardy

Monday, 21 December 2009

Christmas Card Ethics

Always use a ballpoint pen when
writing cards

We are racing through pointless Chrimbo cards to deliver to our neighbours, who we see every few days anyway. Poor Mrs G does the bulk of the work; I can't write, courtesy of being left-handed, and typing a lot, thereby losing the habit.

So we have developed a good system. Mrs G writes the cards, then I scrawl my name, stick on an address label and lick the envelopes. I like this bit. I feel with every lick I can taste a bit of old China, or Malaysia, and sometimes Hong Kong. (We don't spend much on our cards.) So I just enjoy the ghost of Peking Duck or Singapore Noodles, complete with green tea, and food poisoning.

Anyway all that's easy. Harder is tackling the Moral Maze of Christmas cards. There are several thorny issues. Here's some guidance for you.

One. Do I send them at all? Each year we get more and more e-cards, and a high-horse message telling us the money saved will be donated to charity. Yeah, right. Sure you do. Prove it and send me the accounts. Verdict: If you don't want to send a card, don't send anything. e-cards suck like a new Dyson.

Two. Do I send a card to Great Aunt Agatha again this year? I haven't seend her in thirty years and if one is honest with oneself, one is just hoping for a modest legacy when she pops off some time fairly soon. Is that the spirit of Christmas? I think not. Verdict: Yup, send it. She actually shuffled off this mortal coil in 2003 and her grasping kids got the mansion. At least I can annoy them with the card.

Three. Do I enclose a form letter with interesting highlights of my year? Verdict: Absolutely not. Ask yourself this: do you like receiving them? We received one this year detailing the contents of a child's blazer pockets. I don't give a stuff about your favourite films or your top ten recipes either. Save your breath and the planet. A simple hand-written 'hope to see you in 2010' will suffice.

Four. Do I give a card to the postman with a fiver in it, in response to his cheery card dropped in earlier in the week? Verdict: No. If he can't be bothered to say hello during the week, he doesn't deserve it, and he's on strike most of the time anyway. His card was a cynical attempt to gain a tip and should be used to light the christmas fire. If you have to give him something, a curly-wurly and/or a mince pie is ample.

Five: Do I send a card to my curmudgeonly neighbour who never gave my strimmer back and whose dogs leave wet little presents in the swing set? Verdict: Yes. It's a good opportunity to send a little reminder. Write a cheery message like 'Seasons greetings to you and your canine chums. Have you tried dried dog food? Where's my bloody strimmer?'

So there it is. I hope that eases some of those nagging seasonal stresses for you. And by the way, Merry Christmas. We won't be sending out cards this year, but will instead be buying a bigger turkey and a bottle of Chateauneuf du Pape to go with it. The '95. Cheers.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Knight Before Christmas

A typical 'relaxing at home' outfit
Right, feeling better now. Thank you for your hangover cures.

I rewrote this 'orrible schmaltzy poem a couple of weeks ago, and felt very pleased at how witty and original I was until I saw lots of others had done the same thing, sooner and better. Particularly Bob and Eva. Oh well.

Anyway, for your reading pleasure; a sobering tale of a less-than-sober Christmas reunion. It's serious stuff.

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the flat
Not a creature was stirring, (we'd sold off the cat).
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
Along with some other top-notch underwear.

The children were nestled all snug at their Dad's,
who was out, naughty chap, in the pub with the lads.
And mamma stayed in with some tonic and gin,
And some Pringles with dip, for a long evening in.

When out on the street there arose such a racket,
She fell off the sofa and tore her new jacket.
Away to the window she flew with a curse,
I daren't repeat it, although you've heard worse.

The moon on the breast of the statue outside
Made its bosoms look big and its hips far too wide.
When, what to her booze-fuddled eyes should appear,
But the guys from the pub, overflowing with beer.

There was one on the phone, trying vainly to text,
she knew in a moment it must be her ex.
Like damp chipolatas his fingers they went,
It would surely be morn 'fore that message was sent!

"Now Jason! now, Tony! now, Martin and Steve!
Look, David! You've got some kebab on your sleeve
Try to look sober, grown-up and clean-breasted,
Or the cops will turn up and we'll all be arrested.

Mindful of this, the lads soon dissipated,
Apart from her hubby who stood with breath bated,
Looking uncertainly up at the flat,
Where his missus of fond memory was now at.

And then, in a twinkling, he weaved to the door
And dinged on the bell with a trembling paw.
No answer there came, but with booze-inspired pluck,
Down the chimney he went, though he nearly got stuck.

His dress was smart casual, from his head to his foot,
But his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
He didn't look clever or famous or rich,
Apart from his shirt, Abercrombie and Fitch.

His eyes-they were bloodshot! His lips, like blueberry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
But he grinned like a fool and tried to look sober,
Which he hadn't been since the last week of October.

But he didn't look too bad, all things considered
Though he looked a bit dozy and quite heavy-lidded
Nevertheless his bearing was burly
Curly his hair, his moustache nicely whirly

Come in to the kitchen she said with a sigh,
You'd better have coffee, I've got a supply
It's not that you're welcome, she said with a shrug,
It's just that the soot is destroying my rug.

He opened his mouth to deliver a carol
She hit him quite hard with an old biscuit barrel
Ouch, he exclaimed, was it something I did?
Yes, she replied, you're neglecting the kids

I am not, he declaimed, with great indignation
I left them at home with a distant relation
Who? She demanded, her eyes full of pain
"If you must know, it's Auntie Deauxma from Ukraine".

She softened a bit, and she offered her cheek
Which was more than he'd hoped for, for many a week
He asked if she'd let him remain for the night,
No, she replied, but when sober, you might.

He spoke not a word, but delivered his gift,
A small potted plant that he'd nicked from a lift.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
He wiped off a teardrop, which from him arose.

He sprang to his feet, like a kid with a toy
And blew her a kiss as he left, full of joy.
And she heard him exclaim, as he fell down a drain,
"Happy Chrishmash, and sorry I've been such a pain."

Wretched Excess

Has anyone seen my glass?
No post this morning. Hung over.

Good cure anyone? I tried raw egg and curly-wurly already.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Lingering In The Lingerie

Always check the fire-retardant
certificate when buying lingerie

It's that time of year. Mrs G likes something frilly in the ole' Christmas stocking so I pluck up my courage and head for the lingerie department. Actually, if truth be known, I think Mrs G would be quite happy with a gift box of curly-wurlies and a Harry Potter DVD, but a good marriage is built on solid foundations (snigger) and moreover there's a festive tradition to be upheld here. Where would we be without festive traditions?1,2,3

So. Up to the second floor of Debenhams (nothing but the best for Mrs G). There are literally acres of mysterious lacey elastic-y underwired overpriced lurid lurex suspending padded inflatable translucent fripperies on display, and I am immediately all at sea.

Luckily I am not alone. The undies are all on little rails, just above waist height. Every ten feet or so there is a man wandering up and down, trying to look nonchalant, and studiously avoiding eye contact with everybody else. There are a couple of assistants too, hovering and trying not to laugh. We are like giraffes in the African veldt, poking our heads above the trees, taking care to evade the lionesses. Where's David Attenborough when you need him?4

In early years I would suffer hours of this, then grab anything and throw it at the till person, only to get it home and realise it's too big, too tarty, too itchy, too thongy, too purple, and, one memorable year, too edible. I have learned from my mistakes, and I now have a strategy. I boldly head5 for the chief lioness and ask her for her advice. What would she wear?

She wants to know Mrs G's size. No problem. I'm wise to this too. I used to say 'about two inches taller than you' and then wonder why they looked annoyed. Now I have all the relevant measurements to hand; cup size, inside leg, outside leg, surface area, fuel capacity, starting temperature, viscosity, voltage, range, 0-60 times, trade-in value, etc. I simply hand over the spreadsheet.

Looking suitably impressed, she makes some suggestions. Apparently crotchless earflaps are all the rage this year. They're pretty expensive, certainly if measured by the square foot, but who am I to argue? I pick out a pair in a tasteful shade of Manchester United red6. Subtle. She'll love this. Come Christmas morning, that'll get pride of place in the big drawer, on top of last year's. And the year's before that. And so on.

1 - Happier
2 - Richer
3 - Vacationing abroad
4 - Shopping for better quality lingerie in Harrods
5 - Yes I know it's a split infinitive. If Capt Kirk can do it then so can I
6 - I am a Chelsea fan but blue is sooooo last season, dahling

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Christmas Number Two

Merry what, daaahling? Can't hear you
How I loathe festive music. Every year in the UK, there is a tawdry traditional scramble to be top of the increasingly meaningless music chart, by releasing the most schmaltzy, gooey, sugar-coated, banal, insipid slop that the latest Simon Cowell-inspired, two-dimensional, d-list, brainless, egocentric, half-baked flat-voiced media monkey can croon. (Mind you, I quite like Alexandara Burke.)

These treacle-laden ditties exist for a reason, and it's nothing to do with invoking the spirit of St. Nick. They make a huge wedge of wonga for the author, and continue to deliver the dollops of cash year after year. Because I am quite poor, and mercenary, I have therefore swallowed my scruples, and penned a potential festive hit. Unfortunately it's too rude to publish on this family blog. Leave a comment or mail if you want the lyrics but I warn you, it's not pretty.

Last year Mrs G and I were in town, taking coffee 'n' curly-wurly to refuel between sessions of frenzied grasping for over-priced nine-day-wonder tat for the kids. Picture the scene. We sit in what we take to be a quiet corner. We're adding up the credit card bill, to get some worrying in ahead of January, when on comes Maria Carey ("All I want for Christmas, is yooooo"). This song induces a murderous Pavlovian reaction in me whenever I hear it, so to avoid the ghastly bloodbath which may ensue, I ask the waitress to turn it down, or preferably off.

Flat refusal. The customers like it.

This customer doesn't, so he unplugs the speaker. Blessed silence and happy coffee, and pleasingly baffled waitress.

So I encourage you to do the same; keep some nail scissors in your pocket or bag, unless you're going on an aeroplane. Then when you hear the first chords of "When A Child Is Born", snip! And it's gone. Merry Christmas.

P.S. The very lovely Vodka Logic has posted my 'New Santa's Hit' (watch that punctuation) at her sumptuous blog. Complete with tasteful illustrations!

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Micro-Fiction Friday! Or Sunday

So many books, so little time

There’s a top-banana craze sweeping the blogosphere; micro-fiction Friday. Or something. Go see Galen or Susan At Stony River for a better definition. Anyway, you have to write a story in exactly 55 words, and then fabulous prizes await. Well, I’m slow to catch on, but quick to catch up. Here’s my effort. I’m not creative enough to write my own story, but to make up for it, I’ve nicked not one, but four! Enjoy.

Celebrated Fantasy Trilogy

Bilbo, 111! Gandalf persuades: “It’s up to you Frodo. Take the ring. And Sam.”
The fellowship sets off. Legolas etc. fight well. Look out Boromir! Gandalf, dead!

Many battles ensue. Yawn. Gandalf’s back. Surprise!

Soon, hobbits and Gollum reach Mordor. It’s really dirty.
Chuck the ring in! No! Yes! No! Ow, my finger!

The end.

Shakespearean Epic

Montague and Capulet, always at it. But Romeo meets Juliet, now also at it, but in a nice way.

“Wherefore art thou? It’s dark down there”.
“Here! Marriage?”

Angry Tybalt slayeth Mercutio. Romeo slayeth Tybalt back. Juliet feigneth death! Romeo, fooled, toppeth himself! Juliet awakens and joins him, silly girl. Chastened families apologize.


Popular But Tedious Thriller

French curator murdered! Langdon investigates, with sexy Sophie. Enigmatic code; scratch head; solved!

Clever old da Vinci hides clues. Hidden for millennia! Langdon uncovers all in about two days! Crikey, he’s clever. Or lucky.

Despite nasty self-harming monk, bishop, pope, church, etc., Langdon uncovers amazing secret! Jesus had kids. Big deal. Why all the secrecy?

Sci-Fi Classic

Vader captures Leia! Kiss the revolution goodbye. But Luke, trained by Obi-Wan, fights back! Take that, Death Star! Boom!

Many aliens and ludicrous teddy bears later, Yoda fulfils Luke’s Jedi training. Nice moves.

Sod that, says Darth, I’ll build another Death Star. But Luke is too powerful! Boom again!

Luke, I am your father! *croak*

Friday, 11 December 2009

Baaaaa Humbug

Raquel, curiously, is not Welsh
The Family Grumpy are excited to be off to Wales for Christmas. Wales is a special and exotic place, and the Welsh are a noble and proud people, rather like Hobbits. It's just a few hours from London, but it could be the other side of the world, say New Zealand. Like New Zealand, there are more sheep than people, which goes some way to explaining how most of the Welsh Assembly got elected. Welsh sheep also come in many varieties; the dingleberry, the curly-wurly, the tikka masala, the temptress, the baabaablack, to name but a few.

Besides being the Prince of Wales' vegetable garden, Wales is famous for many things. It's produced celebrities like Tom Jones, Catherine Zeta Jones, Davy Jones, Aled Jones, and Indiana Jones. Globally renowned sports like rugby, bog snorkelling, Man vs Horse racing, and Extreme Ironing flourish there. Welsh rarebit, famous everywhere else as cheese on toast, is a local delicacy. And so on.

Wales has its own language, which like, er, whales, is (are?) endangered. This is not a surprise as it is one of the most bizarre languages ever invented. For example, to wish a Welshman "Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year" then simply say "Nadolig llawen a blwyddyn newydd dda". If you pronounce that right then it sounds like you choked on your Christmas pud, coughed it up and sneezed.

Left to its own devices this quaint language might fade away, but it's kept alive via generous dollops of my EU cash. All documents, road signs, web-sites, TV and radio programs in Wales must be translated. For example, go to the web-site of the Prince of Wales and click on the 'cymraeg' ('Welsh'1) button. Bang! Goodbye vowels. It all adds to the mystical charm of the place.

We can't wait. We will be staying with Eldest Sister, a Physician of Repute specialising in sheep-related diseases, in her leek farm in the hills. We will be bringing modern presents from England, like tinned food, VHS tapes, and cutlery. Eldest sis doesn't have central heating, but she does have plenty of cats, so you can warm yourself by dropping one down your pyjamas of an evening.

They also don't have electricity, but we can watch TV as my brother-in-law is a handy soul. Someone simply pedals the power-generating exercise bike while everyone else watches the trusty 14" VHS combo, but we rarely do, as all they can receive is Welsh-language soap-operas, and Dr Who.

So blogging might be a challenge, particularly as 'broadband' in Wales is simply another variety of sheep, and I am obliged to translate all posts. But I'll do my best. Yacky da.2

1 - At least, I think it means 'Welsh'. It might also mean 'Sod Off English Pigs'
2 - Either 'good health' or 'your ewe is standing on my toe' depending on your dictionary.

P.S. Thank you Christie, for the lovely award posted on the right! Before I can pass it on I have to think of, and state, several original and interesting things about me. Don't hold your breath

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Vous Voulez Ketchup Avec Ca?

Nigella displays her bountiful cherries
It might not be common knowledge abroad, but we Brits are now a nation of gastronomes. This is a mighty blow to the French whose national pastime is to knock our grub (Mon dieu! Zis is cheese? It tastes like soap), but I suspect we now eat better than they do. If you don't believe me, have a mouth-watering rib-eye at our local pub1, then jump on the Eurostar2, wander down the Champs Elysees, and order steack frites3. You'll be picking the gristle out of your teeth for days.

How has this miracle come to pass? You can thank the celebrity chefs. Morning, day and night our TV is full of high-profile foul-mouthed macho chefs, ranging from Jamie Oliver (cor, strike a light, this pate en croute is f***ing sublime) to Huge Fartley-Whittlingstool (Keeping pigs is rewarding and ecologically fulfilling. Now watch while I kill one) to Gordon Ramsay (Who's f***ing moved my f***ing hat. I can't f***ing cook without my f***ing hat on, can I?)

Ah ha! We Brits rule the world in this field! Even you mighty Yanks have hamstrung yourself, by insisting that your celebrity chefs were already famous for something else. All you can offer is Paul Newman's (admittedly tasty) dressings. There's a lady called Martha Stewart who has an interesting take on prison food. And no, I don't want to buy a grill from George Foreman. Is that it?

There are a couple of frenchies in the offing, but they all live in London, so they're really Brits too. Game over!

This is also a recent UK history in microcosm. When I was a kid, '70s Britain was an austere place. The chef of choice was one Fanny Craddock, a truly nasty old lady who would frequently whack her husband with a rolling pin whenever his fingers ventured into her puff pastry.

On to the deliciously excessive '80s, and stagger forward Keith Floyd, bon viveur and utter drunk, who'd slur and sway his way through a recipe, and polish off an entire St Emilion Grand Cru in 25 minutes. No-one can remember anything he cooked, but he was meshmerishing mishermeshing hypnotic.

Then in the '90s, decade of consumption and choice, we went nuts. Delia Smith! Gary Rhodes! Ainsley Harriott! Rick Stein! Lloyd Grossman! Anthony Worral Thompson! All household names, and every single one of them released a book at Christmas, and/or a range of barbecue tongs, kitchen appliances, coffee machines, pasta sauces, flavoured condoms, you name it.

Which brings us to the sassy no-holds-barred noughties, and the current lot. Little wonder we're all fat.

Well, now it's my turn. I am a bit of a foodie. I eat most days, sometimes more than once, and I take my gastronomy seriously. I'm working on a modest book, "Chew On This", which might not be ready for Christmas but should be available for barbecue season, which in England is the afternoon of July 17th4.

You'd like a little taster? My modest contribution to our culinary cornucopia includes Battered Curly-wurly in Creme Fraiche. Delicious. Watching the cholesterol? Then may I recommend you my Cheerio Sushi Surprise? You may not like Cheerios, or sushi, but I guarantee you'll be surprised.

1 - Assuming you've got a spare forty quid
2 - Assuming you've got a spare two hundred quid
3 - Assuming you've got a spare three euros fifty, and can put up with the rudest waiter you've ever met
4 - Unless it's raining

Monday, 7 December 2009

Christmas Gig Report

One of our roadies,
pre-warming the guitars

I'm posting at 3 a.m. because Hot Rabbit, Hampshire's Hardest-Working Band1, just finished our Christmas gig and I can't sleep. We work our nadgers off when we play; we started at 9 and finished at 11:45, played more than forty songs, and only stopped for 30 seconds so the bass player could have a pee. (Bass players have notoriously weak bladders.) You'd think we'd be knackered at the end of it but I'm wired and am struck down with terminal munchies, so I have to sit up half the night watching Fu Manchu movies and eating cheese and crackers. And blogging.

We had an OK crowd; there were about 80 people in a small pub, and two huge dogs, so it felt full enough. Sometimes the ole' mojo kicks in and tonight it did. Oh how they danced. I reached the top notes in 'Livin' On A Prayer' and 'Mr. Brightside'. Fighting off pre-instrumental tension, I stepped up to 'Play That Funky Music White Boy'. I aced the tricky glockenspiel solo on 'The Curly-Wurly Of Love'. And the other lads were on similar top-notch form.

I sweated a bucket. We all did. We ended up The Four Hoarse Men Of The A-Puckered Lips. I've worn my index fingernail down to the quick, even though I use a plectrum, and my throat is as dry as Osama Bin Laden's wine cellar. Big noise, big fun.

But we're talking to the landlord as we pack up and he's shaking his head; it's tough to get people out on a Saturday. Why? Because TV is packed with shows like X Factor and Pop Idle and I Used To Be A Celebrity, Put Me Out Of my Misery. The British public sit in mindless droves soaking this stuff up, week after week. He's right. He's absolutely right.

I've tried to like these programs, I really have, because it would be a connection with the kids. But they kick me out of the room after five minutes of watching because my teeth are grinding so loudly.

The truth is I can't stand them (I mean the TV shows, not the kids). I loathe Simon Cowell. How can you trust a man with such straight teeth? He can't be a Brit. I despise the spectacle of half-arsed talentless gormless barbie-and-ken egomaniacs queuing up for ritual humiliation because they want to be famous ("it's my dream"; "it's everything to me"; etc. ad nauseam). The lovely Simon sticks a thousand of them on a pedestal for two minutes and then slaps all but one off. What fine entertainment.

Worst of all: the songs they slaughter and sell by the gazillion. Last year Alexandra Burke won Strictly X-rated Pop Factor, or something, and released 'Hallelujah'. She sang it with beautiful clarity and technical precision, and no feeling at all. Nothing. A song with heart, delivered like an advertising jingle. All she felt was lucky.

Ditto Susan Boyle's note-pefect and utterly lifeless 'Wild Horses'. Mind you at least she has novelty value. The last time a voice matched a face so badly was when Leonard Nimoy released his all-time classic 'The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins'. (The live version is even better).

So switch off the Electric Box Of Evil and Sloth, get out to a pub or club, and watch a band. Any band. These are people who get up and give, night after night, for the love of it. They don't stand up and sing half a song, with sly electronics and a full BBC orchestra covering up how duff they are. And they don't run home in tears when they don't win.

Better still, come and see us. We can promise you a warm welcome, a sweaty evening and a big smile on your face. How often do you get an offer like that? We may be forty-something (forty-thirteen in one case) but we rock.

1 - Check out our supercool, ultra-modern website, www.hotrabbit.co.uk. I did it myself, you know.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Drinking For England

Phew! It's crowded in here
My mate Raj and I like to go to the pub the hard way. Parking next door is for weenies and liberals. We start out at least five miles away and yomp our way in, to build up an appetite for warm beer, and pork scratchings. That way we can discuss the overthrow of the government out of the reach of CCTV cameras and ultra-sensitive microphones. We never whinge about our better halves though, as that would be ungentlemanly.1

So today we meet at Cheesefoot Head, which may sound like a fungal infection but is in fact a well-known beauty spot. It's been the wettest November on record, wetter even than Susan Boyle dribbling all over 'Wild, wild Horses'. But we are made of iron, and besides, we have waterproof boots. Fortified with a hip flask and a curly-wurly each, we walk, paddle and sometimes even swim to the Flowerpots Inn in Cheriton, the Best Pub in Hampshire, ready for opening time at 12:00.

Raj is a top-speed paddler. I trot along behind and we arrive early, at 11:30-ish. To our consternation the pub opens late, at 12:30, says the board outside. So it's another hour walking. But first we nip round the back to admire their fine urinals. We surprise the barmaid, who is polishing the Landlord's beer pump.

"Er, is the pub open?", I ask, which is my way of pretending I wasn't sneaking in to exercise the plumbing.

"We can be," she says.

Five minutes later we're warming our hands on the beer (a bit early I know) and having a fine old chat with the landlord. The fire's lit, the ale is tasty, really tasty, and all is well. On the dot of 12:00 half the village walks in, also ignoring the board outside, and the party's on.

Sometimes I yearn for foreign shores. The Family Von Grump plan long trips to sunnier climes, exotic locations, exciting places. We buy maps, mosquito nets, malaria tablets, harpoons and bear traps. We book guides, we buy insurance. You have to be prepared for anything in Normandy.

Then I come to a pub like this and remember why I live in England. It's absolutely bloody knockout. The staff are friendly, so are the locals, the food is wholesome and plentiful, the dog doesn't smell, there are no pinball machines or horse brasses, there's no tooth-grinding Christmas music. Opening and closing time are a fiction. Come when you like. None of this oh-sorry-breakfast-ended-at-eleven-sir. It's just people having a beer and a chat, and enjoying the landlady's plentiful baps.

No kids either; if you want to bring them, there's a jolly tent outside where you can stick them with a Vimto and a bag of cheese and onion crisps between them for an hour or four. It's prefectly safe; if the temperature falls below freezing, the pub will light a patio heater. Besides it's good for them. They need to develop patience, and their immune systems.

The beer is brewed on the premises with interesting variations, so naturally we end up sampling a bit more than we intended to, and staying a bit longer.

Before we set off the landlord has to leave on an errand, so before he goes we chat with him again. Fifty pubs a week are closing in Britain. We commiserate with him and he shakes his head sadly. Business is slow, he says, which is a surprise given how full the place is, but we duly leave a big tip for the food.

Then he's off. As we set out for the long swim back, bellies sloshing, we see him sweeping out of the car park in a fairly new red Porsche 911 Turbo. Crikey. I wonder what he drives in a good year?

1 - Plus, at least one of them reads this blog.

(Inspired by the full-on recent rant by Dan at Vacant Mind).

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Navel gazing

A typical blogger, revealing all
I think it must come to every fresh-faced blogger, sooner or later, to blog about blogging. Today's ejaculation may be a bit premature, but I'm fascinated, so please forgive the indulgence.

I started blogging to scratch a writing itch. I've written two fabulously unsuccessful novels. My best rejection letter was the hand-written scrawl "I do not read thrillers" in response to my romantic comedy, and as for my post-modern lightly ironic biopic set in the fascinating world of my office, well, I didn't bother sending that out at all. I'm working on an erotic sequel though.

But blogging is a revelation. Instant success! Write any old nonsense, press 'Publish', and it's plastered all over the planet for everyone to read. Mail all of your family and mates, let 'em know it's there, they'll be soaking up your pearls of wisdom on a daily basis.

Except they don't, mostly, because they don't share your obsession. And I have become an utter blog bore. Time and again when I bump into a buddy I blurt out: 'Have you read my blog recently?' I can't help myself. It's like Tourette's syndrome. The response is usually a polite, if stiff: 'Ooh, no, I will soon, thank you so much for reminding me. Again.' The notable exception is one brutally honest friend who shall remain nameless. She point-blank refuses to read it any more. Thanks Dawn.

So the other source of readers is fellow bloggers, and they do come, agonisingly slowly, but they do. And what an amazing bunch of people. Eclectic doesn't begin to describe it. Click on my modest followers collection if you don't believe me; they nearly all blog, and they're all good.

Followers are very precious, as are comments, because they mean someone has taken the trouble to read what you wrote1. It's like your Mum praising your latest Airfix model. So I agonise about my followers and I'm just delighted out of all proportion when one joins, the same feeling I get upon finding an extra curly-wurly at the bottom of my Christmas stocking.

I don't think I'm alone. A recent post from Dr. Zibbs, who runs a very funny and refreshingly vulgar blog called The Blue Yak, complains long and loud about lack of comments. He'll give up, he claims, unless he gets at least 100. This from a guy who has several hundred followers. Cue lots of comments, effing and blinding, slapping him about and good-naturedly knocking him off his soapbox. Quite right too, Zibbs, count your blessings.

It seems the good doctor has broken one of the unspoken rules of blog etiquette, which is: Don't moan. This is because many, nay most, bloggers are from N America, where people are unrelentingly positive; witness the proliferation of cheerful jogging blogs. In the rest of the world 'cheerful jogging' is an oxymoron.

I like this attitude. Someone once summed up Brits and Americans thus: if an American sees someone driving by in a swanky car (an import, obviously) they give a cheery wave and say "That'll be me someday". In Britain we just mutter "Bastard" and pretend not to notice them.

Well, I may call myself Grumpy, but I'm with you colonials. Look how happy I am. Please feel free to follow me. Go on. Please.

Which brings me to awards. I'm bowled over to have got two today, so I have to recommend two-times-five-is ten other blogs. Only ten? I'm following about ninety and I like all of them. But here goes:

From Sandra, passed on to:
Alice In Wonderland - Pull up a comfy chair, plump up your cushions and let Alice read you a soothing poem
Dan at Vacant Mind - Fellow brit and much grumpier than me, despite the bloody cheerful music. Read his pub rant
Marla at Butts And Ashes - Serious stuff but beautifully written, from one good person
Sarah - The Good Girls. Straight from the heart
plainolebob - Everyone awards him so it'll clutter his shelf but how could you not? He's just a nice bloke with great stories

From Alice, passed on to:
Vegetable Assassin - She makes me blush but she's sure funny. I don't think she's a vegetarian at all
Jen - Cheerful marathon runner, for heaven's sake. She'll do her knees in. Help me talk her out of it
MiMi - Living In France - which she dosn't. V funny.
Tina, at the Clean White Page. Spoooooky; dare you enter?
Lou, at Live Write Dream. Anyone who can use the word 'Meh' to describe a movie gets my vote

Honourable mention: Sandra at Real Life In A Minute. I was going to award her but she's got so many today already the poor lady must be completely bamboozled. Next time, JP

1 - Except maybe comments offering to sell you a Ukrainian bride, or man-sized man-parts